Virtuosity 11.11

Where words become worlds…

Archive for the month “September, 2016”

Transcription Tips Tutorial

Transcriptions are an integral part of the research because they provide a written record of the audio from your interviews and focus groups.  However, without the right tools, they can be VERY time-consuming.  The two biggest tips I can give you are: make the cleanest recording you can and use a transcription program to help you. Here’s how:

Find a quiet space, and have multiple recorders going.  Don’t record in a coffee shop or a place that echoes.  Any place with a lot of background noise will give you the transcription from Hell because it’ll be hard to hear what your interviewee is saying.  For a typical interview or focus group session, I usually have at least two recorders going at the same time.  I’ll use my iPhone, my computer, a recorder, and when possible, a microphone.  For focus groups, I’ll put the recorders in different parts of the room.  I prefer to video record when possible as well so that I can see facial expression and body language.  However, to be able to visually record, you need to check with your interviewees and your RSRB to make sure you have permission.  Even with audio, please ask your interviewee before you record.

CLAP before you record your metadata.  If you are recording video, do this in front of the camera.  This will cause a spike in your audio files, and it will make syncing all your files together MUCH easier.

ALWAYS record metadata.  You can start with something like this:
Today is (date), we are doing a focus group interview at (location), it is (time), and with me are: (ask each person to say their name clearly, and give a brief intro that will help you identify their voice and name on the recorder)

Take fieldnotes when you can.  Although this will depend on the nature of your interview.  If I’m doing focus groups, I will have my computer up, typing notes as people respond to interview questions.  This is because when I type my notes, people actually pay less attention to me, and more attention to the others in the room – which is what I want.

However, if I’m interviewing one-on-one, it will depend on who I’m interviewing.  Sometimes, having a computer or notebook up may make the interviewee uncomfortable, and you won’t get spontaneous responses.  It will really depend on the situation.  If you’re in a situation where you can’t take notes during the interview, then make sure you jot things down as soon as you can – so that your memories are fresh.

When the recordings are finished, sync all the files using an audio editor program, such as Garageband or Camtasia.  Remember to line up your “clap spikes,” so that all your audio is synced.  These editor programs are REALLY useful for taking out background noise, too!

Import your edited file into a transcription program.  I swear by Inqscribe, which I love because everything is in one program, you can speed or slow the recording, control the start and stop with the tab button (instead of a foot pedal), and you can tag your file with timestamps (see below).  ALWAYS tag your file with timestamps.

Make time: It will take about an hour to transcribe 15 minutes of audio (from a clean recording).  I transcribe in blocks of time – because you will burn out after a few hours!

Tag your file with timestamps.
Save time on the first pass through: Depending on the purpose of your transcription, sometimes you can just paraphrase and timestamp, while relying on field notes.  Timestamps will allow you to go back into your file and quickly get to where you need.  I timestamp periodicially – especially before important things have been said.  Also, if something is inaudible, just type “inaudible” in your transcription to save time and move on.

Later, if you are doing discourse analysis, you can go back slowly over everything to include the transcription notation (transcriptions may take several passes – depending on how you will analyze these data).

Add dates to your file names
Label your files with the interview date (ie. 19Sep16 – Gidget Interview).  Also, if you can (some places allow for this), a description of the interview – ie. who was interviewed, where, and what it was about.  Keep these data files in a place that is secure.  Personally, I do not use Google for confidential data.  Instead, I use a Box account through my university which insures privacy and security.

Happy Transcribing!




Writing about the Virtual

Natalya here.  It’s been awhile since I have posted on this blog, mostly because I took a well-deserved break from the virtual over the latter part of the summer.  Instead, I got to read about it in the book “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline.

Cline actually spent time in Second Life, and it is definitely evident in the book.   A Second Life user actually built one of the spaces from the book on the grid a few years ago, but sadly it is no longer there. There were many times where something in the book felt very familiar, because I had done similar things in Second Life.  Check out my review over on my “RL” blog for more info about the book and its plot.

Cultivating a writing addiction

person-woman-apple-hotelPublish or perish.  In the doctoral world, success is based on written communication.  This writing starts early – the culmination of nearly every course you take in grad school ends with a 25-paged paper.  For the sake of survival, it is important to develop good writing habits – or even better, a writing addiction.

Peg Boyle Single’s blog post addressed two writer’s myths – the belief that one must have large, focused blocks of time and waiting to be in “the mood” to write  – can actually impede the writing process.  Realistically, having several uninterrupted hours to write is a rare luxury in the life of a Ph.D.  Furthermore, impending deadlines do not wait for mood swings.  The solution, Single suggests, is to dedicate a regular time to write each day.  Her article talks about the rationale behind this and offers tips to help cultivate the writing habit.

Although books on the subject offer anecdotal evidence on the benefits to everyday writing, there are several studies that provide empirical evidence that regular writing does, in fact, lower performance anxiety and increase writer proficiency.  A classic case study by Boice (1981), for example, helped six academics get over their chronic writer’s block through the use of scheduled writing days and specific writing activities.  In all six cases, “small but consistent amounts of writing over extended periods of time” (p. 206) minimized anxiety, the need for perfection, and writer’s burn out.  In another paper, Zimmerman and Risemberg (1997) reviewed several empirical studies on the self-regulation strategies of successful writers.  Among the list of strategies was, of course, writing on a regular basis.

It took a series of trials and errors before I was able to establish a fairly successful writing habit.  At first, I started by establishing a word count for myself every day.  This didn’t work, because often my days involved many hours of reading before I had gathered enough information in my brain to synthesize what I’ve read.  By then, the day would be over.  Then, I tried to make myself write for at least 30 minutes a day.  This, too, failed.  Again, it felt as if I did not know enough to be able to write for this amount of time on a daily basis.

Finally, a book called “Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day” by Joan Bolker reframed the way I thought about writing.  In her book, she goes beyond writing as a habit, and talks about creating a positive writing addiction: “Positive addictions can focus us; they have their own built-in motivation, complete with withdrawal symptoms.”  Thus, it was less about what you write, and more about just writing.  A lot.  Periodically!  …and going into withdrawals when you don’t write.

After reading her book, I remembered the habit loop described by Charles Duhigg in his book, “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business,” which can be used to create and/or change the habits that we have.  Duhigg talked about the three parts of the habit loop: the cue, the routine, and the reward (p. 13).  The cue is a trigger – a psychological button that starts the behavior.  The routine is the behavior itself, and the reward comes after you’ve completed the routine.  In order to shape bad habits into positive ones, one had to adjust something in this habit loop.  For example, if a nail biting habit is triggered by an uneven edge on one’s nail, carrying a nail file to eliminate that cue can change the habit.  Similarly, the use of a rubber band to snap one’s hand when they felt the urge to bite their nails reroutes the routine of biting, as well as the reward – a snap to reset the neurons.

In order to cultivate my writing habit/addiction, I had to have a cue, a routine, and a reward.  My habit had to be reasonable (not the 1000 word count, or the 30-minute writing block) and doable, so that I could experience success at it every day.  My habit loop was fashioned after already existing cues in my daily routine – the cue to pee after I wake up (yes, this is funny, I know, but at the same time, it works for me).  After I relieve my bladder, I sit at my computer and write for 10 minutes.  Just 10, because 10 is extremely doable.  Afterward, my writing habit ties into an addiction of mine as a reward – COFFEE!  After I write, I go and get my coffee, because I’m not fully human until I get coffee.  …and you know what?  This habit loop works for me!

Some lessons I learned about creating a writing addiction:

1. Make your goal something you can ALWAYS accomplish, no matter what.
I have, on occasion, brought the laptop into the bathroom with me.  For me, there is no excuse for not making my 10-minute freewrite, and I often go over this time quite easily.

2. It’s about writing.  JUST writing.
Don’t worry about what you are writing.  Just WRITE.  I’ll say more about freewriting in another post, but for now, just stick to writing – even if it’s, “I can’t think of anything to write so I’m going to just list my favorite ice cream flavors.”  JUST WRITE IT.

3. Tie writing to a cue or an addiction. 
This was key for me – because I love coffee so much.  The fact that coffee is a reward for writing makes writing even better for me – and now, it doesn’t feel right to have coffee without writing, first (yes, folks – I have a bona fide writing addiction)!  Perhaps your cue is sitting at your computer, or it’s the notepad you put at your table while you are eating breakfast.  It’s much easier to form a habit when it revolves around your other habits.  I have, before bed, often written writing prompts for myself to address in the morning.  That way, in my groggy before-coffee state, I can still manage to write something (although whether that something is intelligible is up for debate).

4.  Give yourself an incentives and rewards.
I need my coffee in the morning.  However, I also use something else – I put a few of my friends (thank goodness for Aubrey!) in a Facebook group, called, “Write before coffee.”  You are welcome to join it if you like, and you are not required to do any posts if you don’t want to.  Here, I’ll post my freewrites – as terrible and as awful as they are, for personal accountability.  I’m expected (because I said I would) to write each day – so I do!  However, when I talk about my own research in my freewrites, I include only a partial post there –  because I’m bound by ethics.  …but I post each day – because I have witnesses!

5. Make it a habit – periodic, persistence, tenacity
On a blog post in Forbes Magazine, Jason Selk debunks the myth that habits form after  periodically doing them for 21 days straight.  Instead, he claims that a habit doesn’t stick until you face a challenge during your routine that potentially breaks your streak.  When this happens, the act of overcoming these challenges and persisting despite the challenge will help the habit stick.  In his blog, he says that the more times one “fights through” these challenges, the more likely the habit will form and stay.  Be tenacious!

6. Don’t give up.  Find something that works!
It took me almost three years (and a lot of coffee) in order to cultivate my writing addiction.  I had to go through a lot of trial and error to figure out a routine that worked for me.  Don’t give up, but DO change things up if things are not working.  In “Write Good or Die” Kristine Kathryn Rusch says, “No amount of ‘forcing’ myself got me to change my habits.  I had to figure out where the problem started, and nip it in the bud.” Knowing what keeps you from forming a habit is just as important as the habit, itself.  Find out what those challenges are, and strategize on ways to overcome them.

7. Be patient and gentle with yourself.
Habits don’t form overnight.  However, each time you write, spend a moment to say to yourself, “I FINISHED!” and let that glory soak in.  When you don’t accomplish the habit, say, “I will do it now.  Challenge accepted!” or, reassess your goals and see if you need to make them more reasonable.  However, don’t beat yourself up.  You ain’t got time for that!  Success, after all, is a series of failing betters.

What are your habit-forming strategies?  Care to share in comments below?

Happy writing to you!



#writingsprint #amwriting

I work alone on my own schedule. Although there are many perks to working alone, I found out very quickly that finding the personal motivation to put in eight hours of work a day can be difficult.  It is very easy to become distracted, and with doctoral work, you must set aside time to write, read, and think.

Fortunately, a number of my classmates and friends have developed systems for keeping each other accountable and motivated.  For me, I rely a lot on writing sprints to get me by.  A writing sprint is a designated amount of time (usually 25 minutes to an hour) where you work, nonstop, without any distractions.  I do several of these every day!

In future articles, I will share some of my strategies for eliminating distractions during my sprints.  For now, let me explain how my sprints work:


  1. I start a sprint by sending an email blast to people on my email list who have said they would like to sprint with me within the next few minutes.  If anyone is interested, they email me back – usually with goals, and perhaps a time they would like to start.
  2. We agree to an end time (usually a half hour), and sometimes share our goals.
  3. At the start of the sprint, I turn on my Pomodoro timer to keep track of my time and my goals.  My web blocker goes on, my document is up, and I commit to sitting in my seat for that full 25 minutes of productivity.
  4. At the end, I send an email to my sprint buddies, to check-in.  This is a great time to be honest with each other (yes, sometimes we end up in the kitchen mopping the floor, without any recollection of how we got there), but to also offer some motivation and support, too.
  5. If everyone is for it, you start the next sprint and so on.

Because of summertime schedules and varying goals, there are some days when I may have three sprint partners, and other days where I may end up sprinting alone.  I stumbled across an article by Story a Day, which outlines how to host a Twitter-based sprint with anyone using #writingsprint as the hashtag.  The article had a lot of good ideas, which I will be trying.

Are you interested in sprinting with me?  I’ll be posting #writingsprint hashtags on my Twitter when I’m working.  Hope you will join me!

#acwri – hashtag for all you academic writers out there!

Happy Writing and Researching!


Keeping a Research Journal


Art credit to Leo

When I started my Ph.D. program, I kept a research journal as a requirement for one of my classes.  My research journal consisted of a simple Word document that contained all of my daily entries, separated by a series of dashes.  Each day, I would go to the top of this document, enter the date, and then write.  In this manner, my most current entries would be at the top and the older entries would appear at the bottom.

Throughout the semester, my professor had us try different things in our journal, such as: inputting notes from our readings, thinking memos, highlighting important things (through boldface, blinking text, or side comments) that we may want to revisit, and adding daily “to do” lists.  Through my journal, I learned how to paraphrase my readings, and to quickly synthesize several works into one or two paragraphs.  I later found that my notes were incredibly useful to use for later papers – especially toward the end of the semester.

My research journal quickly became a personal repository for processing my thoughts, theories, and experiences in both life and grad school.    Peg Boyle Single, in her blog on developing good writing habits, said that “Motivation occurs when you have done the necessary planning steps so that when you sit down to write prose, you have had time to subconsciously play around with the ideas and you only have to retrieve and type down the ideas, not to think them up.”  The research journal teaches you to do this sort of prethinking every day.

Later, I moved my journal from Word to Scrivener, which enabled me to keep my entries separate within a single electronic “binder.”  Each entry could be tagged, labeled, and summarized so that later, I could go back, search, and even categorize my entries by topic or subject.  This was incredibly valuable to me when I went through my comprehensive exam process, because I could compare my entries side-by-side to the actual working document that I needed to write.

Now, as I tackle my dissertation proposal, I have started a new section of my journal, where I keep my daily 10 minute freewrites.  In addition to developing a daily habit of writing, my journal has also taught me how to think by writing – a necessary skill for navigating through my frequent trips within the cognitive muck of research.

If you are interested in keeping a research journal (it is never too early or too late to start), check out this blog post by Anuja Cabraal.  She outlines the process of starting a journal, and provides suggestions for ways to use it effectively in our work.

Happy Researching!

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